A young man carrying a briefcase nervously walks through a bustling shopping district in Los Angeles. In a darkened surveillance center, observers watch and listen through cameras and microphones as a voice announces, "Blackbird acquired." One of the observers is a woman addressed as "Mace". On the street, plainclothes agents Kensi and Sam take turns tailing the man. Suddenly a gunshot shatters a store window behind him, sending panicked bystanders diving for cover. More shots are fired and the man runs, eventually dropping the briefcase which contains money and a GPS locator. Kensi and Sam follow, dodging cars as they try to keep him in sight. Without the GPS locator, the camera observers lose track of the man. At the scene Kensi and Sam lose sight of him too, and Sam finally declares that "Blackbird has flown." The surveillance operation has failed.
At NCIS headquarters, Ziva's desk phone is ringing when Tony and McGee enter the bullpen. Tony answers the call as Ziva arrives moments later. Before giving her the receiver, he describes a man across the street who was looking for her. Ziva takes the phone, says hello to the caller, and continues the conversation in Hebrew.
Gibbs arrives and tells the team to gear up for a dead Marine. Private Nick Chandler was found early that morning at a construction site, strung up spread-eagled and wired to a car battery. His left shoe is missing, and an airline boarding pass in his pocket indicates he had just arrived in Washington on a redeye flight from Los Angeles. He died of suffocation caused by electrocution.
Chandler, based at Camp Pendleton in California, had arrived in the U.S. from Kuwait the previous day on humanitarian leave. He bought his ticket to Washington at the airport gate, and booked a rental car in flight with a credit card but didn't pick it up. McGee discovers that NCIS's L.A. field office already has a nationwide BOLO out on Chandler.
In MTAC, Vance shows Gibbs the video from the failed surveillance operation on Chandler. The previous week, Chandler's mother in West Virginia had been beaten half to death during a home invasion robbery. Before Chandler left Kuwait he was given $250,000 in cash to deliver in L.A., in exchange for his mother being spared. A local informant tipped off the NCIS field office, and they were waiting when Chandler stepped off the plane. He agreed to work with them. After the drop failed, Chandler panicked and immediately flew east to see his mother. He got only as far as the nation's capital.
Vance suspects that Chandler's coerced courier duty is related to a weapons case the L.A. field office is investigating. He tells Gibbs to take someone and go there to find out. NCIS's Office of Special Projects, the undercover and surveillance unit, has the lead. In response to Gibbs' question, Vance confirms that "Macy" is still the Agent-in-Charge at OSP. Vance asks if Gibbs has a problem with that, and Gibbs replies, "She might."
Tony asks Ziva about her Israeli friend, and she reveals that his name is Michael. Gibbs takes McGee to L.A., leaving Tony to mind the store. Ziva's cell phone rings; she greets the caller with "Shalom" and continues speaking in Hebrew. As McGee heads out to meet Gibbs at the car, Ziva ends her call and excuses herself as well. Tony is a team of one for the moment.
Still alone in the bullpen some time later, Tony finally calls Ziva on her cell. She tells him she's following a lead, and quickly ends the call. She's with her friend Michael, who says, "Your father sends his love." Ziva asks, "What else does my father send?" Michael places his hand over hers and answers, "Me."
OSP is housed in a nondescript warehouse-like building. Outside, an overhead security camera is the only sign of life. NCIS Agent Kensi Blye greets Gibbs and McGee and escorts them inside, where Agent-in-Charge Lara Macy presides over her hi-tech undercover and surveillance world. It quickly becomes apparent to everyone present that she and Gibbs have a history.
Macy tells Gibbs that Chandler was delivering the $250K to someone named Liam. Apparently Liam became suspicious, and killed Chandler to protect himself. Weapons dealer Max Talia arranged the deal, and told Liam the money was coming in from overseas. A meeting with Talia is set at a local diner for later that morning. Macy advises Gibbs to let her do her job. He replies, "Like you did the first time we met?" OSP operational psychologist Nate Getz tries, unsuccessfully, to get Macy to discuss Gibbs.
Gibbs calls Tony and passes on Liam's name. Tony and Ziva are checking into murders similar to Chandler's. The quick and effective tie-and-fry technique suggests that his killer has done this before.
Gibbs then meets up with his old friend, NCIS Agent Callen, at a beachside park. They make small talk until a young woman approaches. Callen abruptly begins speaking in Russian, and Gibbs plays along until the woman has passed by. She's newly arrived from Russia and lives across the street from Callen. In her presence he pretends to be Russian mafia, to discourage her from trying to be friends with him.
Callen arrives at the diner, which has been equipped with hidden cameras and microphones. He presents himself as a weapons dealer, and eventually asks to meet Talia's client. Waitress Kensi gives Talia a note from "the gentleman over there"; it says Callen's a cop. Talia dismisses him, and through his earwig Macy orders Callen to leave. As Callen departs, Talia and the man who gave the warning exchange looks across the room. The team then listens in as Talia phones someone whom he addresses as Liam. The connection to Chandler has been made. Back at OSP headquarters Callen also tries, unsuccessfully, to get Macy to discuss Gibbs.
Tony tells Ducky that Ziva seems distracted lately. Ducky replies that it's understandable. While the team was split up, she was nearly killed in a bombing during an undercover operation in Morocco. Tony had known about the operation, but not that Ziva had nearly bought the farm. Ducky mentions seeing Ziva in TV news coverage of the attack. As to the Chandler case, Abby found skin cells on the rope used to tie up the Marine. The killer likely has a serious rope burn on his hand.
In MTAC, Tony watches the old news footage of Ziva being taken to an ambulance after the bombing. One of the ambulance attendants is the man he saw outside their office, looking for Ziva. Abby identifies him as Michael Rivkin, Israeli citizen and a banker from Tel Aviv who arrived in Washington two days ago. Tony has Abby search for other photos of Rivkin.
Sam, Gibbs and McGee review the Chandler surveillance video together. They spot the shooter in a passing car, and send Abby his photo to identify.
The search for killings similar to Chandler's leads to Benji and Stefano Kass. They were suspected in an identical murder in Baltimore, but were never charged because all the witnesses disappeared. The brothers run a scaffolding business, and Tony and Ziva visit them at a construction job. Ziva spots a shoe stuck in a pallet of materials, and remembers that Chandler had been missing a shoe. She collars Stefano while Tony chases Benji up into the scaffolding. Benji trips and falls through his own shoddy work, and hangs on for dear life over a very long drop. Tony notices a telltale rope burn on Benji's hand. Faced with either falling to his death now or risking someone else's wrath later, Benji confesses to Chandler's murder. He and Stefano owed a favor to someone named Liam. They don't know his last name.
Macy's team had bugged Talia's car while he was in the diner. They listen in as he phones "Mattie Rae", the customer who gave away Callen. Waitress Kensi had given him Mattie's number. Mattie is a weapons dealer whom Callen had put away for five years. He's out and back in the game now, but insists on meeting Talia's client first before playing. Talia arranges a rendezvous at a local parking garage within the hour.
The team sets up cameras at the garage. Sam and McGee watch from OSP headquarters, while Macy, Callen and Gibbs watch from their parked car inside the garage. Mattie is there, standing outside. Talia arrives shortly thereafter. An SUV pulls in with two men, one of whom is Chandler's shooter. On camera McGee spots that the new arrivals are carrying weapons with long barrels -- silencers. Callen yells, "It's a hit!"
The shooter and his companion open fire, and Mattie yanks Talia out of the way. The others quickly riddle the two gunmen with bullets. "Mattie Rae" is actually NCIS Agent Mike Renko. Callen was deliberately exposed at the diner, to make Talia feel safe when waitress Kensi then steered him in Mattie/Renko's direction. Liam apparently got what he needed from someone else, and agreed to the meeting to tie up a loose end.
Chandler's shooter, presumably the elusive Liam, has a room key to a motel on the Sunset Strip. In the room are suitcases containing weapons, explosives and four blank passports. The room's still booked, so Liam's buyer most likely is returning for the goods. Macy comments that Liam's a ghost. He and the buyer probably have never met.
Abby finds another photo of Israeli banker Rivkin, and it's a whopper. In the photo with him is Mossad Director Eli David, Ziva's father. If Eli knows Rivkin, Ziva must know him too. Tony orders Abby not to say a word about this to anyone.
Liam is identified as Liam Patrick Coyle, a former IRA weapons dealer who went freelance after the peace treaty was signed. No one's heard of him because he's been living in New York under another identity, a "legend". The term was coined by the East German Stasi (secret police) during the Cold War, and refers to a deep-cover false identity able to withstand any scrutiny.
Callen, posing as Liam, waits in the motel room. Someone knocks at the door, and he admits his visitor. Callen smiles and says, "I've been expecting you." Michael Rivkin replies, "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Liam."